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More medical support often needed on sidelines
Aug 26, 2013 10:26 AM

Repository sports writer

High school football players increasingly are bigger, faster, stronger — better.

The level of medical care awaiting them on the sideline has not kept pace.

While professional and college football teams have multiple physicians, athletic trainers and specialists at their disposal, medical support is spotty at the high school level.

For those who feel concussion laws are not enough to protect young players, improving medical support is high on the list of suggested next steps.

Usually, the best a high school football team can hope for is one full-time athletic trainer at games and practices, and maybe a physician at games.

Data vary on how many U.S. high schools have access to an athletic trainer on either a full-time or part-time basis. Jim Thornton, president of the National Athletic Trainers Association, estimates “a little over half.”

As head athletic trainer for NCAA Division II Clarion (Pa.) University, Thornton has himself, four other full-time athletic trainers and a student staff to take care of about 400 athletes.

“You go down to the local high school, and it’s one athletic trainer taking care of 400 athletes in six different venues,” Thornton said.

Thornton cites budget constraints at schools for the lack of athletic trainers. A full-time athletic trainer in a high school typically will make between $40,000 to $45,000 per year.

As a local example of what is available, Lake High School has a full-time athletic trainer (AT) that is at the school every day from 2 p.m. until the final practice or game is complete. The AT, who is contracted through Mercy Medical Center, makes the higher-risk sports (football, soccer, etc.) the priority but services all the student-athletes.

The AT basically is on call and can be reached by cell- phone. He attends all varsity football games.

The service costs Lake $25,000 to $30,000 a year.

Like most schools, Lake has a team doctor whose services are basically complementary. The doctor attends games and is available for referrals but isn’t there day-to-day like the AT.

Among coaches and physicians, most agree that an AT is the most qualified and feasible option on the field to spot a concussion.

“The modern athletic trainer is the gatekeeper between making a decision on concussion symptoms and proper referral of that student-athlete on the day and the moment it happens,” Thornton said. “There is no one who is more trained than the modern athletic trainer to determine that, period.”

When finances or logistics don’t work for an AT to be available, schools must adjust. Minerva High School does not have an AT. The school has a team doctor who comes to the school on Tuesdays and Thursdays to treat athletes and make referrals. The doctor, who is a practicing chiropractor, is on call other days and attends all varsity football games. It costs Minerva about $10,000 to $15,000 annually for that service.

Complicating Minerva’s situation is the fact that there are no satellite offices nearby for Mercy Medical, Aultman or other large health care providers.

Reach Josh at 330-580-8426 or
On Twitter: @jweirREP

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Edited: Aug 26, 2013 10:26 AM by Dwight Kier
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About the Author
Jim Thornton, president, National Athletic Trainers Association

More medical support often needed on sidelines